I remember waking up early the next morning and I felt like I was in some sort of movie. There was still leftover salad and pizza on the table and remnants from a sad night before. It was a strange morning.
I was supposed to be hosting a gingerbread house making playgroup at my house with about 20 toddlers. I quickly sent out an email canceling but forgot to send an email to one sister who was not on the list. She showed up, bag of candy in hand and I've never felt so horrible as I opened the door in my nightgown and tear streamed face. I mostly felt terrible for her. It was the beginning of the humbling public experience of grief.
We tried to talk to Annie a little bit that morning. She was very sweet with James but eventually started to say "but you're happy now" as she wanted us to be done with our tears. She thought her hugs could cure all. Sweet thing. Kirby offered to come pick up Annie but James wanted to keep her close. She was a bright spot for us through it all.
The next few hours were spent on the phone with family again as we slowly tried to process letting friends know and planning the services. Everyone agreed on everything and it all seemed so peaceful in honor of Lizzie. The family prepared a beautiful Facebook post and love notes and comments began to stream in. Tyler was involved in it all and I truly felt him become a brother in those hours. The funeral started to come together seamlessly and we started to make plans for our travel.
James decided to go ahead of me. We knew it would be best if we left Annie in Charlotte. I knew I couldn't leave her for 5 days but we wanted James to be in DC with his family as soon as possible. It was very hard for James and I to be apart at this time. We needed each other. But we also decided that there was something special about having just the original Barker crew under one roof at such a sacred time. Say what you will, but that bond is deep between siblings no matter your age.
I had a huge lump in my throat and tears started to stream as we talked about what we'd do with Annie for a few days while I went to DC for the services. The thought of leaving her at such a fragile time was heartbreaking. But I was also emotional about all the love in Charlotte. I knew without even batting an eye that Kirby would take care of Annie for 2 days. I knew she'd be in the most perfect hands and that Annie would be thrilled to have a sleepover with her best buddies. I called Kirby and through tears asked her. She jumped at the chance and was the perfect person for it all. I'll never be able to repay her for this.
That afternoon texts and calls came in from loved ones. It was a beautiful day in our home. I felt Lizzie all around as we talked with so many and reminisced about crazy fun times with her. I was able to share with James some of my memories of Lizzie at Alpine Village. She was the light of our ward and was someone I always wanted to be around. I felt a deep gratitude that I had gotten to know her during that time. It was so beautiful to have these sweet memories floating around us on that day.
James packed his bags and headed for DC that evening, I believe. I felt far away but loved having him there for his family. I clung to Annie and looked forward to being with the Barkers soon.